Washington, DC -- October 2000 -- The Pain Relief Promotion Act, pro-life legislation that would limit the ability of doctors to prescribe federally-controlled drugs to be used in assisted suicides, again cleared the House of Representatives. The legislation came in a different form as pro-life leaders in the House attached the bill to legislation concerning tax reform.
The victory may be short-lived, however, because President Clinton has threatened to veto the bill over issues unrelated to assisted suicide.
Members of Congress attached the Pain Relief Promotion Act to the bill, approved by a 237-174 vote, in hope that it would pass the Senate as part of a bill related to another issue. In the Senate, pro-assisted suicide Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has used legislative maneuvering to tie up the pro-life bill on the Senate side.
Wyden is mulling his options following the House vote, said Josh Kardon, Wyden's chief of staff.
All 43 people who died under Oregon's first-in-the-nation assisted suicide law since it took effect in late 1997 used federally-controlled drugs banned by the legislation. Maine voters will consider legalizing assisted suicide during the November 7th election.
Pro-life House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) said in a statement that the bill "will guarantee that no American suffers the indignity of an agonizing death while also insuring that America does not start down the path toward euthanasia."
Pro-life Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) authored the Pain Relief Promotion Act. Armey inserted it in the tax relief bill, which next goes to the Senate.
Clinton's letter to Republican leaders threatening the veto did not mention the assisted ssue. But White House spokesman Elliot Diringer said Thursday that Clinton has concerns about the legislation and said it should be considered on its own and not as part of a larger bill.
Supporters say the bill makes it clear that aggressive pain treatment is a legitimate medical practice, even if such treatment increases the risk of death. The bill would authorize $5 million in annual grants for medical schools to teach doctors better ways to treat pain.
"The bill has lopsided support in both houses," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right To Life Committee. "The only reason this bill didn't go to the president separately is that Wyden was able to gum it up with unrelated issues."
Doctors who deliberately aid a patient's death would lose their license to prescribe drugs and could face a 20-year prison sentence under the bill.
The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pain Management and over 50 other groups have backed the legislation. The House has passed the Pain Relief Promotion Act once, on October 27, 1999, by a vote of 271 to 156.